John Boyne: Irish author deletes Twitter after ‘abuse’ from activists over trans comments

The Irish author has been criticised for rejecting the term ‘cis’ as he promotes a new novel about a transgender youth

Ben Kelly
Tuesday 16 April 2019 16:32
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The author John Boyne has deleted his Twitter account and written a robust response after being criticised by online activists for comments he made about the trans community.

Boyne is about to release a young adult novel called My Brother’s Name is Jessica, which follows a young boy’s experience after his older sibling comes out as transgender.

Writing in The Irish Times at the weekend, Boyne - who is gay, and frequently includes LGBT characters in his novels - said he was “apprehensive about how the book will be received by the trans community” but that he hoped people would see he had “treated the subject with care.”

However, he also wrote that he rejects the word ‘cis’ (a non-transgender person), adding: “I don’t consider myself a cis man; I consider myself a man… I reject the notion that someone can force an unwanted term onto another.”

Following the publication of the article, Aoife Martin of Transgender Equality Network Ireland wrote a response piece in which she said: “Whether Boyne likes it or not, he is a cis man and he has cis privilege. It’s just a pity he can’t seem to recognise it.”

Criticism of Boyne was more strident on Twitter, with some calling for a boycott of the novel. They pointed out issues such as the title's misgendering of the main character (who identifies as female), and that the novel depicts the physical assault of a transgender woman. One commentator wrote, “John is not trans therefore this isn't his story to write.”

Responding to the criticism, Boyne said in a statement that he was “appalled” by the abuse and threats he has received, and has decided to delete his Twitter account.

“I’ve been called vulgar names, mocked for my appearance, my looks, my weight, my sexuality, and even for the crime of being bald," the statement reads. "Any responses I’ve made have been unfailingly courteous. The breaking point was Monday night when, within a few minutes of each other, I received one tweet simply saying ‘F**k John Boyne’ and another, from a freshly set-up account, using a fake name, telling me to ‘Be careful when I’m out in public’.

“I have always tried to write with consideration and empathy and I will continue to do so," he added. "But removing myself from the toxic atmosphere of social media seems right to me now.”

Boyne did make clear that he was not blaming the trans community for the social media attacks on him.

“For the record, I do not believe that the trans community bears any relationship to, or any responsibility for, the actions of online trolls. As a gay man, I stand 100 per cent behind all trans people. I respect them as brave pioneers, I applaud their determination to live authentic lives despite the abuse they also receive, and I will always do so.”

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Since this statement was released, many people on Twitter have come out in defence of Boyne, pointing out that he is a good person, an LGBT ally and that the abuse he has received is “unacceptable.”

RTE broadcaster Rick O’Shea wrote: “I'm a lifetime radical leftie liberal and even I am afraid to express opinions here in some areas in case I get the next pile on.”

Based in Dublin, John Boyne is the author of six young adult novels, including the 2006 hit The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which was made into a film in 2008. He has also written 11 novels for adult readers, including The Heart’s Invisible Furies and A Ladder To The Sky.

My Brother’s Name is Jessica is released on 18 April.

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